The idea for the Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar (there’s probably a much simpler title out there) is simple; a film each day in the build up to Christmas that isn’t your standard Christmas film. Not like The Muppet Christmas Carol, Elf or Die Hard (that’s an argument for another day, or year), but one that might be set at Christmas but the holiday isn’t a major factor in the story of the film, or it’s simply mentioned a couple of times and made reference to throughout.
It’s the week of Christmas! Panic and worry that not everything has been done is at a high, for some. However, there are others who can wait until tomorrow to do their last minute shopping and preparations. So, why not sit down, calm down and enjoy today’s offering from the alternative Christmas advent calendar? Behind today’s offering is the lesser seen alternative Christmas film The Shop Around The Corner.
When people think of classic black and white Christmas films the ones that commonly come to mind might include the likes of It’s A Wonderful Life, the original Miracle On 34th Street, The Bishop’s Wife, some versions of a Christmas Carol and even The Apartment. However, one that isn’t thought of as often is Ernst Lubitsch’s 1940 feature The Shop Around The Corner. Alright, it might not exactly be a classic, or at least one that people remember or return to each year, especially at the festive season, but then again that’s one of the points of the alternative Christmas film advent calendar.
While roughly the first half of the film is set outside of the Christmas period the second half frequently makes point of the build-up to Christmas, with much of it taking place on Christmas Eve. Focusing on the busy chaos of a department store, trying to bring in as many customers as possible with their various offers and unique products, including cigarette boxes that play music every time you open them, being sold against the protest of lead salesman Alfred Kalik (James Stewart). It seems that nobody quite has a grip on what’s happening at the shop, especially with indecisive owner Mr Matuschek (Frank Morgan). And with Christmas coming up, and a feud with new employee Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan).
However, the thing that keeps Alfred going through his day is the letters that he sends to, and receives from, a mysterious woman who created an advert about wanting cultured conversations via letter. Neither person knows who the other is despite the connection between the pair growing stronger. The irony being that the woman that Alfred is writing to is his distanced colleague Klara. The theme of these letter communications went on to slightly inspire Nora Ephron’s 1999 rom-com (59 years after The Shop Around The Corner) You’ve Got Mail, some also claiming that there are slight inspirations in her other iconic rom-com Sleepless In Seattle. The idea of people coming together and forming their relationships over Christmas, against the background of frantic Christmas shopping connote strong themes of the festive season, and feel very much like a general Christmas film. However, the mentioning of Christmas mostly in the second half of the film, and not really having a large impact on the plot, aside from one or two smaller details to slightly heighten the theme towards the end of the film, makes it more of an alternative choice.
The mild rom-com ideas not quite being those would inspire the likes of more festive classics such as Love Actually but it helps to create a slightly more festive feel. The comedy throughout at the various, sometimes slightly exaggerated, characters also bringing in a lighter tone and while not quite bringing in a layer of charm it does introduce another level of amusement and enjoyment to be had from the piece as a whole. Everything coming together to create an enjoyable, fairly funny and mildly festive film. It has the elements and would be mostly the same without the references to Christmas, however because of the themes and references to the holiday it has that rather appreciated festive feel. Making it that little bit more enjoyable and definitely an alternative Christmas film.
The Shop Around The Corner can be watched in the following places:
And, of course, on DVD and Blu-ray, and likely on other platforms where the option to stream, rent or buy films is available.